WEST CHESTER -- A message from the county commissioners to the 684 voters in Chester County whose absentee ballots in the April primary were not counted because they arrived too late: We feel your pain.
The three commissioners voted last week to send a letter to state officials asking that changes be made in absentee ballot regulations so that those postmarked on the deadline date rather than those received by he deadline date can be counted.
The idea for the letter came from Commissioner Kathi Cozzone, who said she noticed the problem on Election Day, when she stopped by the Office of Voters Services on April 22 to see how things were going.
"We anticipated that there would be a heavy turnout at the polls," she said Thursday, given the tight race for the Democratic presidential primary between U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. "I wanted to check with Jim (Forsythe, Voters Services director), and he mentioned the ballots."
Turnout came in record numbers for the day. More than 42 percent of the county's registered Democrats and Republicans voted, with 65 percent of the Democrats casting their ballots.
But the Voters Services office had received almost 700 absentee ballots on Election Day and the day before. Those could not be counted, however, because the deadline for absentee ballots set by the Pennsylvania Department of State, which runs such elections, was Friday, April 18.
The absentee ballots Cozzone saw all appeared to have been sent in advance of the deadline; however, they were not received until afterwards.
The reason for the rule is to give precincts workers the chance to check their records to ensure that voters don't send in an absente ballot then show up and vote in person, having their ballots counted twice.
"I spent my day trying to see if there was some way to get an exemption, but we were not able to get anywhere," Cozzone said.
In Chester County, Voters Services mailed 4,418 absentee ballots and received back 3,022 by the April 18 deadline. It received 684 after the deadline -- 424 on April 21 and 260 on April 22. Those received on April 21 had been postmarked before April 18, with many showing postmarks of April 15.
Cozzone suggested to her fellow commissioners that they write to ask that the rules be changed. In a display of bi-partisanship, her two fellow commissioners, both Republicans, agreed.
"I was very disappointed to
learn that many voters who took the time to get an absentee ballot, and mail it back, would not have their votes counted," said Commissioner Terence Farrell. "It would benefit voters in Chester County, and other Commonwealth counties, if the regulation were changed."
"I agree that this regulation needs to be modified so that every vote counts, echoed commissioners Chairwoman Carol Aichele.
Cozzone suggested that either the state adopt a regulation allowing those ballots postmarked the day of the deadline to be counted, or to extend the deadline date.
She said she had not heard anything in response to the letter yet but would wait a few days before making inquires.
"It is hoped that the deadlines for the absentee balloting process can be changed so that the many citizens who vote in good faith in this manner can be assured that their votes will count," Cozzone said.
A spokeswoman for the state department could not be reached for comment.